It’s the afternoon before Thanksgiving here in the U.S. Our little quarantine “pod” is fortunate to have the means and the proximity to celebrate fairly normally. I just made pie dough and put it in the fridge to chill while I come down to my basement and jump on the stationary bike or elliptical trainer to prepare my body for tomorrow’s onslaught of carbs. And as I step onto the basement floor I think about something I read yesterday — A beautifully written note of Thanksgiving penned by a friend — that reminded me that the floor I’m standing on is on land that once was likely inhabited by, and “owned” by, the Piscataway Indian Nation. For hundreds of years, maybe more, this land was theirs. To cultivate, hunt on, and live on with their own cultural norms, rituals, and values.
And then in the early 1600’s all that began changing. Very rapidly. Today the number of people identifying as Piscataway is very small. (Owing not only to the decimation wrought by the English, but by the tribes’ comingling with free and formerly enslaved Africans, thereby finding themselves categorized under Jim Crow laws). A relatively recent action by the State of Maryland finally gave the Piscataway Conoy Tribe the recognition it deserves.
We were taught very little about the history of Thanksgiving in grammar school — but whatever the lessons were typically concluded with that happy, harmonious meal between the Indians and the Pilgrims. What a load of malarkey.
But back to the pies.
Thanksgiving was my favorite family holiday growing up. My parents hosted my mom’s siblings and my cousins, with their outsized appetites for eating, drinking, singing along with Mitch, dancing the limbo and who knows what else.
Thanksgiving remains a favorite for my partner and me and our growing family.
And yet this year I find myself seriously contemplating the reality of what any “first Thanksgivings” were like for the Piscataway people or other Native Americans. This excellent article puts a pretty fine point on that reality (TL;DR: Not harmonious, and not fun), and offers a few ideas for those interested in helping to shine a light on our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
I’m fortunate to work for an organization — GlobalGiving — committed to lifting up the voices of vulnerable, often historically oppressed, people and their communities globally. With our Coronavirus Relief Fund we have supported indigenous organizations around the world, including many in the United States. Indigenous communities are *usually* impacted disproportionately by crises, and COVID-19 is no exception.
Today GlobalGiving gave me an easy, safe way to support Native Americans across the country. You are welcome to check out a few of our favorites below, and to join me in mixing the dough a little differently this year.
- Trees for Tribes helps Native American communities help themselves through the provision of fruit tree orchards that provide an abundant harvest of nutritious fruit for families living in poverty.
- Seeding Sovereignty seeks to empower LGBTQI+ Youth and address some of the disproportionate effects Native youth face as a result of extreme poverty (suicide, substance and drug abuse, and historical trauma) by holding space for traditional healing and sharing our collective knowledge in a safe environment.
- Native American Advancement Project’s summer enrichment program promotes education, builds our youths’ self-esteem, sparks curiosity, and shapes strong, healthy, contributing members of society. The program focuses on teaching reading, math, technology, and health education.